Review: James Franco’s ‘Disaster Artist’ is uproarious and moving

My last Buffalo News movie review for the foreseeable future (long story) was a good one: “The Disaster Artist.” I gave it four stars.

The most unexpectedly poignant scene of 2017 comes near the end of “The Disaster Artist,” an uproarious and genuinely insightful creation. It is the premiere night for “The Room,” a film written, produced, directed by and starring a man of mystery named Tommy Wiseau.

If you’ve seen “The Room,” or know the story of the film and Wiseau, you can guess what happened the night of the premiere: laughter. However, “The Room,” is not a comedy. It is, instead, a dark, “emotional” story of betrayal.

It is also a god-awful effort considered by many to be the worst film ever made. And the status of “The Room” became abundantly clear just minutes into that first screening.

The assembled audience — many of whom worked on the film, either in front of or behind the camera — was in hysterics. Meanwhile, Wiseau, played here by James Franco, wept. His film was a joke, and it always would be.

This scene comes after we’ve seen Wiseau meet a fellow actor named Greg Sestero (played by Dave Franco), attempt to make it in Hollywood, fall repeatedly on his face, and, finally, develop and shoot “The Room.” We know he has no dramatic film-making ability, and little grasp of reality.

But thanks to James Franco – who also produced and directed the film – we care about Wiseau. His pain is hilarious and affecting. Yes, it can be both. Similarly, “The Room” is both a nightmare and a joy — a bad, bad film that has filled audiences around with world with real happiness.

Real happiness also comes from watching “The Disaster Artist,” a film that marks Franco’s greatest achievement. He is so intent on doing everything — writing, hosting awards shows, acting on soap operas — that his talent is often overlooked.

The script for “Disaster” by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (based on “Room” co-star Sestero’s book) presents a Wiseau with the absurdity of his public image and an innate likability. The script and the performance make everything about him – from his strange, New Orleans accent to his abundant reserves of cash – endearing.

So, too, is the first chunk of the film, in which Wiseau and Sestero move to Los Angeles to pursue acting careers. Dave Franco nicely acquits himself opposite his brother, making Sestero a relatable audience stand-in.

“Disaster” wisely avoids puncturing the Wiseau myths — no one onscreen learns where he’s from, how he makes his money, or how old he is, and neither does the audience.

And it surrounds him with characters who, like Sestero, are likable non-caricatures including Seth Rogen as the film’s script supervisor; Ari Gaynor, Jacki Weaver, and Josh Hutcherson as “Room” co-stars; and Paul Scheer as the film’s director of photography. These actors make the scenes set around the making of Wiseau’s self-funded epic hysterical.

But it is James Franco who is most memorable. At times unrecognizable, he has crafted a hero for the ages — albeit, a hero who looks like a villain. It’s not hard to see what appealed to him about the story. Similar to Franco, Wiseau was and is a figure often criticized as dangerously self-deluded. Yet he persevered, stayed true to his vision, and triumphed. With “The Disaster Artist,” so does Franco.

Like Tim Burton’s classic “Ed Wood,” “The Disaster Artist” is a testament to the communal joy of movie-making. But more than that, it’s an unforgettable appreciation of the pleasures of movie-watching.